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UK-Australia free trade deal could ‘damage’ Northern Ireland farmers, says Edwin Poots


Cows grazing in a field Photo: John Kelly

Cows grazing in a field Photo: John Kelly

Cows grazing in a field Photo: John Kelly

The incoming leader of the DUP has warned a potential tariff free trade agreement between the UK and Australia may “damage” Northern Ireland’s beef and sheep trade.

The agriculture minister Edwin Poots said a potential zero tariff and zero quota deal between the two countries “presents a high level of risk to Northern Ireland and UK farmers”.

The UK is keen to strike free trade deals with countries around the world following Brexit.

A policy of free trade means goods and services travel across borders unhindered and at the price set by the producer without state support.

The main benefit to UK consumers could be cheaper food, however farmers in the two countries would fear the competition implications that such a deal could have for their own products.

While the Department for International Trade (DIT) in the UK has not confirmed it is willing to concede to zero tariffs in return for an Australia deal, The Financial Times reported it was being considered, with ministers divided over the issue.

Responding to the reports and writing to Secretary of State George Eustice to express his opposition, Mr Poots added: “I believe that the UK should maintain tariff protection at present levels for all agricultural products where the UK has a significant production interest.

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“Australia has a number of distinct advantages over Northern Ireland, and the rest of the UK, in terms of the land available for farming, climate and lower standards that allows it’s farmers to be able produce at a considerably lower cost, particularly in the beef and sheep sectors.

“Consequently there is a lot of potential for Australian beef and sheep exports to the UK to expand substantially over time if tariffs are eliminated.

“Australian beef and sheep products have the potential to undercut UK producers and to reduce Northern Ireland’s market share in Great Britain which is our most important market for these products.”